Friday, November 20, 2009

Posting Pictures from Mobile Phone Using MMS

Already for quite a while I was experimenting with various methods for using my mobile phone to quickly put pictures online. Usually I take pictures with my digital camera instead of the phone, because the quality of that camera is better than the phone camera. But in case there would be a live event, it would be much nicer to be able to quickly take a snapshot and post it online.

There are several web sites and applications which support this: once can always email a picture to them, or use a dedicated application on the phone which allows a direct upload through the internet and a specific API. But this is only feasible while having a low-cost internet flat rate. When travelling abroad, this upload method can become quite expensive due to high roaming charges.

The low-cost - or at least controlled-cost - alternative to upload pictures from abroad is to use MMS. Usually one MMS costs as much as 4 SMS. This method was supposed to replace SMS since quite a while, but it turns out that there are several issues with incompatible standards and proprietary methods of MMS implementations.

MMS is supposed to send out something similar to an email: a multimedia file (picture, video), with some text. This should also work from phone to phone, and the interface for sending it is similar to sending an email. However, my O2 service for SMS does something quite stupid: for example, when I send a MMS to an email account, the service then, instead of just creating an "email" which would have the text as the message body and then the picture/video as an attachment, sends an email with some generic text, completely eliminating my text. Instead, my own text is sent as an attachment.

I have tried this a few time, but this is quite frustrating: I can send for example with this method an email to my blog, instead of using any internet connection, but on the blog the entry appears just like this:

You have received a Media Message
This Media Message has been sent using an O2 camera phone.

To reply to this media message you will need to use your own camera phone.
Simply take a picture, or video and send it to the person that sent you this

If you do not have a camera phone, get one today! Either visit or come and see us at your local o2 store.

Please note: You cannot reply to this message via email.

And there is no image, and no text. See example here where I simply sent a picture from my mobile phone to my blog via MMS.

Fortunately there are some services which properly deal with this pseudo-email, make some sense of it, and set it up so other users can view the uploaded picture. I have tried out a few of those services here and want to show the results. This is by no means comprehensive - there are probably many more such services there available. The selection I made was more or less random, with services I came across accidentally.

The following parameters were used:
the picture was an SVGA image (1280 x 1024), captured with my mobile phone. I choose to compress it, so that the file size was just 223k (MMS has a limit of 300k filesize).
In the MMS I chose the following:
Subject: "View into James Graham Courtyard"
Text: "Picture taken from 2nd floor inside Leeds Met James Graham Building"

Here is what the various services did with this.


MoBlog posted the picture properly and shows the heading. However, the body text is lost.

MoBlog appears to be more of an insular solution: I did not find a way of having my message forwarded to any other social network, nor is there a widget available which could be included in my own page.


TwitPic is closely linked with Twitter and will forward a tweet with a URL to the image.
It uses the MMS heading as the caption, but looses the main text. I can automatically forward a post to FaceBook, Twitter, Plaxo (and maybe other services) where then a text line with a link to the image is printed.


Twixr has its own application running on the mobile phone, which allows to enter a body text. But since this also uses the internet, I would not use it when abroad, but use MMS instead.

When sending an image through MMS to Twitxr, the body text disappears and is replaced by a "You have received a Media Message" caption - not very attractive. Another constraint: the header MUST be a geographic location, e.g. "Munich Airport". Otherwise Twitxr will send an email to the default email account with an error messge: "Invalid location". Quite annoying. Twitxr provides a widget on which the latest picture is shown. This widget can be embedded in a blog or any web site.


Although more designed for high-end photography, Flickr surprisingly provides a relatively good response to an MMS being sent: The image gets posted properly with the correct heading, and when forwarded to Facebook the image appears nicely as a thumbnail there (at least that is how it was until yesterday). However, also here the main body text is lost, and the update/forward to Facebook can take a couple of hours, depending on the synchronisation settings.

MobyPicture - My Choice!

And then came MobyPicture. I had tried it a while ago but had somehow missed its large amount of features. When I made my experiment with the MMS, I realised that MobyPicture was the only one of all those services I tested, which fulfilled all my requirements. This is the only service which correctly detected the text attachment and interpreted it as the body text of the picture. So I could use a picture heading and a body text. Furthermore, it supports a very large number of other services to which it can forward/post: Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, etc. It also has a widget which shows a few thumbnails and can be embedded in many of the social networking sites or in any other web page.

I set MobyPicture up to forward the picture to my blog, and it correctly posted there the picture, with heading and body text - see this example.

There is a danger of getting a whole avalanche of postings, when linking to all the services: since these services often are connected to each other, the same posting could show up multiple times. Since I forward all my Twitter tweets to Facebook, I would get duplicate messages there. I decided therefore not to use any forwarding to Twitter and Facebook, but just to post to my Blogger account - all my posts there are then forwarded to Facebook. I still have to explore which is the best way of using MobyPicture to avoid those duplicate messages. It appears that when posting through Blogger, the image is not forwarded to FaceBook, whereas a direct link from MobyPicture to Facebook posts the picture.

During my next trip abroad I will test MobyPicture more, to see if it really works well and what the best way is of using it. So be prepared for a series of picture posts here on this blog, sent from my mobile phone through MMS and MobyPicture.

It appears that MobyPicture is the best way for managing and automatically distributing pictures captured with a mobile phone.

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